Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Parent Network of WNY

For many parents, learning that your child has a special need or disability can be overwhelming. As the questions start piling up, many don’t know where to begin. However, if you are in Western New York, the answer is simple, contact The Parent Network of WNY.

The Parent Network of WNY was started in 1986 by a dedicated group of parents with a vision and mission to provide support to families of children with special needs.

As parents start asking the questions, “What does this diagnosis mean for our family?”, and “What services are available for my child?”, reaching out to The Parent Network, will provide you with many of the answers to those and other questions.

The Parent Network has the expertise, and is devoted to helping families and professionals make it possible for individuals with disabilities to reach their own potential and be successful. It can be a confusing time for parents and family members, and through the support of The Parent Network, parents and caregivers can gain the confidence they need to advocate for their family member.

What helps make The Parent Network unique is that most staff members are parents of individuals with special needs themselves; bringing personal understanding to the people they serve. Having been in the shoes of the families that reach out to them, they are able to connect with the families on a different level, and in some cases, offer the support medical professionals cannot. From my experiences with the Parent Network, they are true advocates for every family that comes through the doors, and continue to be the experts in support and training for families who need it.

During the year, The Parent Network offers numerous classes and workshops throughout the eight counties of Western New York. Some of the topics covered in the classes/workshops include Special Education, behavior, Autism, and what happens after high school. Their website www.parentnetworkwny.org is continually being updated with current training information. You can also join their mailing list and be sent a calendar of workshops offered.

When I spoke with Jennifer Zolnowski, Marketing Coordinator for The Parent Network, she told me, “This past year alone the organization conducted more than 225 training sessions and received more than 1100 phone calls from people seeking information and resources."

Families and providers can contact the Parent Network at (716) 332-4170 or by e-mail at info@parentnetworkwny.org. Some of the additional information they can help with is finding support groups and recreation programs.

The organization has been operating for 25 years, and in that time they have been able to serve over 10,000 families and professionals throughout WNY. They are funded through grants from the US Department of Education, the Advocacy Center, Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and NY State Department of Education.

The grants they receive do not cover all the costs, and they raise additional money through fundraisers during the year (check out my events page for one coming up in January). The organization is always looking for items for basket raffles and silent auctions. Additionally, they offer sponsorship opportunities for businesses for conferences and events held throughout the year. Outside of monetary donations, they are always looking for volunteers to assist in the office or serve on their Board of Directors.

The Parent Network continues to partner with different agencies in the community and is always looking for more ways to reach out to the families they serve. If you would like to contact the organization about becoming a partner, volunteering, or offering monetary support, please call the office at (716) 332-4170.

If your child has a special need or disability you need to contact The Parent Network of WNY today! If you know of a family who has a child with special needs, please spread the word. They are ready and waiting to assist the community and be the resource needed to help our children with special needs succeed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Eniola Sisters Enrichment & Mentoring Program

I truly believe we all have a purpose in life. Some of us are given a hundred years to fulfill that purpose, and some of us, like Monique Eniola Emdin, are only given 29. For Monique though, her purpose and mission in life continues today thanks to the creation of The Eniola Sisters Enrichment & Mentoring Program in Buffalo.

To tell the story of The Eniola Sisters, I first need to tell you Monique's story. Monique was born on April 29, 1979 in Maryland. At the age of 2 she moved to Ibadan, Nigeria with her family. When she was 9 she returned to the states and lived in Brooklyn, NY. Following high school Monique attended The University of Buffalo (UB). In 2002, Monique graduated from UB with a B.S. in Occupational Therapy. She was motivated to continue her schooling and went back to UB in 2004. In 2007, Monique graduated with a Juris Doctor and MBA. She began her career as a lawyer with Hiscock and Barclay LLP in Buffalo, NY shortly after.

For many, the rigorous schooling would have been enough, but Monique was involved in many other projects. She was a Sunday School teacher and a Board Member for Bethesda Community Development Corporation. She also adopted several international children through World Life Ministries International with her allowance.

Sadly, on March 8, 2008 she passed away, after a short battle with cancer.
Before Monique’s passing, she and Eniola Sisters Founder, Chantele Scissum began developing a mentoring program similar to Eniola Sisters, but the plans never came to fruition.

Later in 2008, Chantele recognized the need for girls programming at her Church, New Life World Harvest Restoration Center in the Commodore Perry Community in Buffalo, NY. She reached out to the girls in the area, and the program began. The official "start" of the Eniola Sisters was April 29, 2009 (the date was chosen to honor Monique's birthday). Chantele couldn't think of a better name for the program than Eniola Sisters, after Monique's middle name.

The original program held “Sisterhood Meetings” to provide life skills instruction, character building, self esteem building, spiritual enrichment, and opportunities to build lasting friendships. In November 2010, Eniola Sisters added the one to one mentoring component to the program. Then, in 2011 Eniola Sisters was adopted by New Life Economic Community Development, a 501(c) 3 organization, and added the after-school program component.

When the Eniola Sisters began, they served a small group of eight girls. Currently, the organization serves 95 girls, with more added every week!

Today the organization has many components including the after school group mentoring sessions, community based group mentoring, and sister to sister mentoring (one on one). The organization is run completely by volunteers (including the organizations leadership structure). They have been fortunate to partner with many other local groups including Gerard Place, Westminster Community Charter School, Merge Restaurant of Buffalo, Junior Achievement of WNY, Jericho Road Ministries, and Candy Kids Spa, to name a few.

When speaking with Chantele she said the mission of Eniola Sisters is, "To improve the lives of girls and empower girls to be their best selves." Chantele told me that girls today have many factors working against them. Department of Education research shows that nationally girls are falling behind in at least one subject area between 4th and 8th grades. Here in Western New York, teen pregnancy rates are the highest in the state, and obesity rates continue to grow. Besides physical and educational barriers, bullying is an increasing concern, deflating the self-esteem of many girls both locally and throughout the world.

Programs like the Eniola Sisters are doing an amazing job combating the challenges girls are faced with today by providing them with the necessary skills, knowledge and confidence to become successful leaders in the community. Many girls in the area, and across the country don't have the "role model" or female support to encourage them. Eniola Sisters are more than just another organization, they are a family, that continually supports the girls in their program.

Although the program is pretty new, there have been many "success stories". Chantele reflects on one in particular: " One of our “original” girls was 13 years old when the program first started. She was shy, quiet, very few friends, and had very low self esteem. She was hesitant to engage with her peers. She expressed being very unhappy with her appearance, and often expressed suicidal thoughts. Today, that same young lady is very involved in her church, community, and school. She has taken a leadership role in all of her extra curricular activities and has reported having several close friendships. She has attributed her growth to her involvement in Eniola Sisters and working with her mentor."

Parents, teachers and community partners can enroll girls in the program by calling (716) 835-0945 or visiting the website www.eniolasisters.org. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact the organization. They are always looking for volunteers to become mentors or assist with different activities.

The community can get involved with Eniola Sisters in a variety of ways. They are currently accepting donations of arts and crafts supplies, travel sized hygiene products, Wal-Mart and Target gift cards, empty hygiene containers, electronic donations (cameras, video cameras, TVs, DVD players, etc), tickets to cultural events, and monetary donations. They are also looking for mentors and workshop facilitators. If you are in the "giving spirit" this holiday season, consider donating an item on this list to Eniola Sisters.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for Buffalo

Happy Thanksgiving!

For many people today is about food, family and football. For me, it is also a time to really reflect on all I am thankful for. So many times we are quick to point out the shortcomings in our lives or the problems we are faced with, but take for granted all the little things we are thankful for.

I am so thankful I have the chance to share my love of Buffalo with all my readers and even more thankful that people out there read this (I get blown away when I check my daily stats and there's hundreds of views). Thanks for giving me a few minutes of your time whenever I post a blog. I can't tell you how much I truly appreciate your support!!! Please stay in touch with me via Twitter and Facebook (see left side of the page) and drop me e-mails if you know of any great local businesses.

I thought it would be fun to create a list of reasons why I am thankful I live in Buffalo. Here's my top 10 (and I know there are plenty more. Feel free to comment on the blog with reasons you are thankful you live in Buffalo).

1. The people. I seriously mean this too. No matter where I go, people are just friendly in Buffalo. Okay, okay, so I occasionally run into someone having a bad day or someone who is just rude, but whether I'm in the line at the grocery store, paying my toll at the toll booth or walking around the park on a summer day people say hello, smile, strike up a conversation and Buffalo truly does live up to its nickname "The City of Good Neighbors."

2. I get to experience all four seasons every year. While people joke there's really only two seasons in Buffalo; winter and construction, I absolutely appreciate the weather Mother Nature gives us. People around the rest of the country don't know how good it is to see the leaves change, experience that first snowfall, see the daisies and tulips bloom in spring and bask in a gorgeous summer day. Take a look at this year alone...we have been spoiled. Even now in November, we have had so many nice fall days (and there's more on the way this weekend!)

3. The food. I've traveled a decent amount in my 28 years, and without a doubt, when I am on vacation, I miss the food. That's not to say I haven't had some good meals on the road, but when it comes down to it, the selection in Buffalo is the best.

4. My summer calendar fills up fast. Once the Allentown Art Festival hits in mid June, there's something going on in Buffalo every single weekend, and many week nights. From Taste of Buffalo, to Thursday in the Square, to free concerts half the other nights, to Bisons games, you have a chance to do something fun with family and friends every week. What's even better is that the majority of them cost nothing to get in!

5. If you live in any of the many surrounding suburbs it takes no more than 20 minutes to get downtown! I say this all the time when I go downtown for Sabres games or dinner or to enjoy the night life, and without fail, every time I get there within 20 minutes.

6. The cost of living. Yea I said it. Living in Buffalo doesn't cost nearly as much as it could. The city is filled with gorgeous parks, architecture and entertainment that can keep you busy for hours.

7. The proximity to Niagara Falls. Alright, so I've had a lot of awesome memories at Niagara Falls and it holds a special place in my heart, but just knowing one of the seven wonders of the world is a 20 minute car ride away, always gets me excited. The fact that Canada is right there too is not so bad either!

8. Sports. Having an NFL team, NHL team and NLL team are pretty awesome (we also have a minor league baseball team), but what's even better is I can pretty much go anywhere in Buffalo and find someone who will talk to me about sports. If I have Sabres or Bills anything on I can almost guarantee someone will say "Go Sabres" or "Go Bills" to me. If I'm at a bar on a game night, I have ten new friends to chat with. Buffalo is definitely a place for sports lovers (even if you don't love the Bills or Sabres because most of us genuinely care and know about what is going on in the leagues in general).

9. The fact that there is virtually no traffic. Go to most other fairly decent sized to big cities and you sit in traffic wasting away much more of the day then I'm willing to. I'm the girl who gets upset when the 290 is backed up (and by backed up I mean, maybe going 30 instead of 60). Our thruways, interstates, expressways all move pretty quickly and I appreciate the fact that I can get from point A to point B fairly quickly.

10. The fact that 85% of the time (a percentage I just totally made up, but bet it's probably close) when I meet someone in Buffalo, odds are they know someone I know and it's less than the famous "six degrees of separation". I'd say maybe 4 and depending on where you are, 2! People genuinely have each other's backs and know someone who knows someone who will take care of them. That's the kind of city it is.

I can think of a bunch more reasons why I'm thankful for Buffalo, but it's time to go eat lots of Mom's homemade stuffing, my homemade muffins and some cranberry sauce. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and happy official kickoff to the holiday season!!! If you are going shopping this weekend SHOP LOCAL! (I'll admit, I have Kohls on my list too, but Elmwood, Hertel, and all the local shops are the place to be)

I'll be back on Monday!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Small Business Spotlight - Sweet Tallulah's

If you are in the minority like me, holiday baking is one of my favorite things to do. I love decorating cookies and making the traditional pierogi stuffed with Farmer’s cheese or sauerkraut, but for most of the general public, they try to stay as far away from the kitchen as possible.
If you are looking for the “homemade” taste this holiday season, but don’t want to spend hours baking in the kitchen, place an order with local business Sweet Tallulah’s.

Ten years ago Linda Lund started baking items for her clients at the hair salon/spa she owned. She’d put up a flyer a month or so before the holidays and before she knew it, she was flooded with orders for pies, cookies and pierogi.

Two years ago, Linda’s sister Cheryl Krygier joined forces with Linda, and Sweet Tallulah’s was created. Using many old family recipes and adding some new twists to them, Sweet Tallulah’s offers cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pies, cheesecakes and over ten varieties of pierogi.

As young girls, Linda and Cheryl baked with their Mom & Grandmother using old family recipes. They learned to make everything from scratch from them. Every year at Christmas time they still get together with friends & family to make several hundred pierogi.

“We take pride in everything we make & have a lot of passion for baking & cooking.” Linda said.

Growing up eating Polish food, I am always impressed about the different pierogi options Linda & Cheryl cook up in the kitchen. They offer the traditional Farmer's cheese and sauerkraut options but also have added in Buffalo wing, reuben and sweet potato, to name a few.

You can find menus, contact information and a full price list on their Facebook page (click here).

Depending on where you live, orders may be delivered or picked up at either Linda or Cheryl's houses or Linda's hair salon in Amherst.

As the holiday season gets closer, and you run out of time to fit baking in, get your order in with Sweet Tallulah's and enjoy the holiday season without the hassle of the kitchen. They offer many different platter options (which are great for office parties and family get togethers) and seasonal items with the flavor of the holidays.

Contact them today! I promise you (and your stomach) will be glad you did!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Small Business Spotlight - Indulge: Home Spa Parties

"The time to relax is when you don't have time for it." - Sydney Harris

Though the holiday season brings a lot of joy, it often is very hectic and busy. THIS December, take some time out of the hustle & bustle and treat yourself to some "me" time!

Looking for a different twist to the yearly holiday party? Why not book an Indulge: Home Spa Party and enjoy the holidays with those you love while relaxing!

Indulge: Home Spa Parties is a new business that offers spa parties with massage, pedicure, manicure and waxing services.

The company is owned by WNY natives Nicole McKeone and Stacy Phillips.

Nicole became a licensed massage therapist in 2006 and worked for a local salon/spa for over three years before branching out on her own. Nicole runs the business Kneaded By Nikki, in addition to doing the massage therapy for Indulge: Home Spa Parties.

Stacy became a licensed hair stylist in 2003 and received her nail technician license in 2006. In addition to being the co-owner of Indulge: Home Spa Parties, Stacy currently works at a salon in East Amherst.

Nicole and Stacy had the idea for the business a couple years ago while they were working at a salon together in Amherst. They started off small doing parties for family and friends and the feedback was great! After generating a "buzz" locally, they decided to take it a step further and became a legal business in May 2011.

If you put the words, "spa", "massage", or "pedicure" in any sentence, my eyes automatically light up, but I absolutely LOVE the concept of Indulge: Home Spa Parties. An awesome feature to this business is that they come into YOUR home and set everything up. All you need to do is provide a private space for the massages and the guests. It is perfect for girls night with some wine and appetizers, a great gift for your bridal party before your wedding, a fun bonding activity with family, or just an excuse to get pampered with your girls.

Not only are Nicole and Stacy friendly and outgoing but their prices are extremely competitive with local spas and salons (check out the website below for the costs). It is so convenient to have them come to you, and gives your party a much more intimate feel then you would get at a spa/salon.

For parents with little girls out there, they offer kids parties as well. What a fun way to "pamper" the little divas in your life.

They are offering an AMAZING Black Friday deal!
(Please mention you saw these specials on this blog!)

Check them out:

Contact us between 10am and 10pm on Black Friday (11/25) to reserve a party date and you will receive a $75 hostess credit towards your party (with minimum of 4 guests), PLUS each person at your party (including you) will receive a $10 gift certificate to use at future parties with no exclusions!

**First 10 people to reserve a date that day will be put into a Raffle to receive a FREE SPA PARTY that will include up to 4 guests. (Each guest will have $50 credit to use and is responsible for remaining fees after that.)

**This offer may not be applied to existing parties.

**Full $75 must be used at your party and may not be split into multiple parties.

**This special cannot be used towards kids parties. Feel free to contact us through call, text or email before Black Friday if you have any questions or concerns about booking a party, however, we cannot reserve a date for you until 11/25.

If you can't book your party on Black Friday, please contact them about their other "hostess" credits.

"Like" them on Facebook and find them on the internet at: www.kneadedbynikki.com - click on the tab at the top for Indulge: Home Spa Parties.

Take some "me" time this holiday season because you deserve it! You will feel refreshed and it won't cost a fortune!

Stacy Phillips (left) and Nicole McKeone (right)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Small Business Spotlight - Jenny Lynn Photography

I'm obsessed with pictures. There's rarely a day that goes by that I don't pick up a camera and take a picture of something or someone. It's gotten to the point where my family and friends don't even bring their cameras to events anymore because they know I'll be snapping away at get togethers. My family and friends suck it up, smile for the pictures and roll their eyes saying "we already took 30 other ones" because they love me. It wasn't until I met local photographer, Jennifer Stauffer, that I found someone who shared my passion for photography!

Jenny Lynn Photography is a one woman business started by Jennifer Stauffer of Getzville. She's a young, up and coming photographer who really takes photographing your family and special moments to a whole new level!

Jennifer was inspired to start her own photography business after helping her cousin, photographer Karen Koslowski at weddings in 2009. She instantly fell in love with capturing the special moments of Karen's clients and started to branch out and do sessions for friends and family. The feedback from her early clients was incredible and Jennifer decided to give photography a real shot as a part-time job.

Jennifer offers photography packages for weddings, engagements, families, couples, pregnancy, children, pets and events/special occasions. The cost of packages are extremely competitive with Buffalo area photographers and ALL packages include a high quality CD with edited images for their own personal use. Jennifer never requires a printing order with her packages to make them as affordable to her clients as possible, however clients can order prints after sessions are done.

In addition, Jennifer will also take any old pictures you have, scan them in, set them to music and create a slideshow for you. I've seen some of her slideshows and they are definite tear jerkers and make awesome gifts (Christmas, Hannukah, etc...are coming up!!)

Recently, Jennifer has started to really build up a prop collection to add a fun twist to pictures. Right now she has an amazing collection of baby props and is looking to expand into more props soon. After looking at some of the props (many for different holidays, Disney characters, etc...) I've been blown away by the added dimension they bring to the pictures. My two favorite recent additions are using Scrabble pieces and the crocheted baby slings.

There's many gifted photographers in the Buffalo area, but for me, Jennifer Stauffer stands above them because she really take the time to get to know her clients so she can capture the moments and shots that matter the most to them. She spends time prior to each session discussing what her clients want, and really devotes countless hours after each session to perfect and edit the pictures taken. The amount of time and energy that goes into each session's final product makes her the biggest steal locally price wise.

"Just watching people have a good time and capturing their memories is an experience I truly enjoy." - Jennifer said.

You can truly see that joy come out if you spend any time with Jennifer. She has an outgoing, bubbly personality that is infectious and her love of photography and her passion for the art of photography comes out in every picture she takes. Each time I see new pictures she posts on her Facebook page she finds new and fun ways to capture moments. I'm a pretty emotional person in general, BUT so many of her pictures have brought me to tears; many are simply breathtaking.

Jennifer started off small and currently only advertises by word of mouth, but once people started seeing her finished products, business started booming. In 2011, she added numerous weddings, family portrait sessions and more recently baby photos to her calendar. Her calendar for 2012 is already starting to fill up! This is truly a testament to her skills!

Right now Jennifer is offering some amazing deals for the holidays.

Newborn - 6 Month Session: $125 for a 2 hour session and the photo CD with copyright release to print your photos for personal use ($175 Value). Must book session no later than December 31st, 2011.

$25 Slideshows - A selection of your photographs from your session with Jenny Lynn Photography set to music. Must book session no later than December 31st, 2011.

"I consider myself a serious amateur photographer due to the fact that I'm self taught and there is still so much out there that I would love to learn. One day I hope to go back to school for photography." - Jennifer said.

Jennifer does have a full-time day job, so she is mainly available on the weekends and weeknights after 6pm for photo sessions. Though she does not currently have her own full scale studio, clients love choosing a personal location for their sessions to make it even more special.

If you have a special event coming up, just got engaged or have been dying up to update the family picture hanging on your mantle from 10 years ago, please contact Jenny Lynn Photography today. It will be money well spent!

Here are some samples of her work (you can find so many more on her Facebook page):

To find out more about Jenny Lynn Photography here's all her contact information:

Phone: (716) 444-4598
E-Mail: JLPhotography2009@hotmail.com
Website: www.jennyphotography.webs.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jennylynnphotog
Twitter: @JennyLynnPhotog

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Krystal's Favorite Buffalo Things - 2011

I decided to create a list of my "Favorite Buffalo Things" (Oprah style). The following list includes memories, food, drinks, places, meals, attractions, etc...that I experienced in 2011 and fell even more in love with.

There are 28 categories - one for every year I've been alive.

Enjoy the list!

Favorite beer (let's start with the important stuff) - Flying Bison's Buffalo Lager (I did't even try it until September, but now growlers and growlers dance in my head)

Favorite wine - Victorianbourg Wine Estate's Fleur Du Vin (white wine). They are a newer winery on the Niagara Wine Trail.

Favorite martini - Siena's (on Main Street in Williamsville) Jolly Rancher Martini...it even comes with a Jolly Rancher sucker in it.

Favorite meal - Blue Monk on April 13th: The dinner meal was two chicken breasts in a cherry balsamic glaze, creamed polenta and spinach on top of the polenta. I still frequently talk about that meal to any and everyone who will listen. The polenta was to die for. Compliments to the Chef!

Favorite Buffalo food & drink - I'm not a big fan of chocolate, but hello sponge candy from Landies Sweets & Treats. As for a drink, can one ever get tired of Loganberry? Nom!

Favorite "quick bite" to eat - Globe Market on Elmwood

Favorite dessert - Loganberry icecream from Lake Effect Icecream (you can find them at many local retailers, and in 2011 they opened a storefront in Lockport - there will be a blog about them shortly!)

...Clearly I'm from Buffalo, the first 7 are food/drink related...okay, I should probably move onto other things...

Favorite theatrical performance - The Lion King at Shea's Performing Arts Center (saw the matinee performance on Sunday October 23rd)

Favorite concert spot - Went to go see Guster at The Town Ballroom. It was the first time I was there for a show and I fell in love with the venue. I love the intimate nature and just the atmosphere in general was fun!

Favorite local shop - Poster Art (located inside the Boulevard Mall and also on Elmwood)

Favorite "night out" hot spot - Allentown Hardware (classy, good selection, fun atmosphere, nice bathrooms)

Favorite festival - Taste of Buffalo - I went both days this year and just soaked in all I could take! Amazing food, awesome people, good entertainment and a pretty city!

Favorite community moment- If you know me, you know sports are the center of my universe, so it makes sense that my favorite moment of the year is sports related. Hands down, there is no disputing my favorite moment of the year came on Sunday September 25th when the Buffalo Bills finally beat The New England Patriots. After what seemed like an eternity of not beating the division rival (and losing some heartbreaking losses), we did, and in last second fashion that only Buffalonians can appreciate, and have heart attacks over. I was at the game with my boyfriend Geoffrey and I can't even describe the feelings that came over me that day. I was so overcome with emotion, and so was everyone around me. People were hugging, openly weeping, cheering and some just sitting there taking in the moment. It wasn't just a special moment for me, it was a special moment for the entire city of Buffalo, and all the other fans in attendance. Buffalo is a sports town. That day was about a city of fans who support a team that, quite frankly, has given us little to cheer about for over a decade. No matter the outcome of the season, I'm gonna keep that moment close to me.

Favorite Buffalo personality - Terry Pegula (he changed a franchise, he changed the atmosphere in Buffalo when it comes to winning, and he changed the mindset of The Buffalo Sabres)

Favorite local athletes - Nathan Gerbe (Sabres) & Freddy Jackson (Bills)

Favorite non-for-profit - danceability Inc. (check them out www.danceabilityinc.com)

Favorite summertime chill spot - Hoyt Lake (under my favorite tree near the water)

Favorite way to view the sights - Kayaking in the Harbor (Buffalo Harbor Kayak rents great kayaks)

Favorite charity event - I attended a lot of them this year, but my favorite was The Quota Club of Amherst's "Symphony Of Style" Fall Fashion Show. I model in the fashion show and they have probably 150+ baskets and tons of other raffles up for grabs. It is at the Hearthstone Manor and you can be sure I'll let you know the date for next year's event. Part of the proceeds raised from the night goes to St. Mary's School for the Deaf and a bunch of great other local charities.

Favorite radio station - My radio is almost always tuned to WYRK 106.5 (I'm a country girl).

Favorite street - Elmwood Avenue (I discovered The Elmwood Arts Festival for the first time this year, it's the street my alma mater is on and I tried so many new restaurants on Elmwood this year!)

Favorite local politician - Assemblymember Mark Schroeder. He was instrumental in helping St. Mary's School for the Deaf restore funding to the 4201 Schools. He stood up, spoke and signed at our rally in Albany. He will be missed as he moves onto his new job in January!

Buffalo story I couldn't stop following - Steve Cichon did some pretty tremendous coverage of the Muzzammill Hassan case. I was engrossed in the story, as disturbing as it was.

Favorite outdoor spot to exercise - Ring Road in Delaware Park. In the summer it is my daily stomping ground on my lunch hour! So many friendly people, nice sights and a good surface for walking.

Favorite hidden gem - Fox Tires on William Street in Buffalo. They sell used tires for $30-$60 per tire (more expensive = better quality). They are awesome...I got tires here and so did my boyfriend...in Geoffrey's words "This may be my new favorite place." Quick service, friendly staff, family owned and operated since 1955. They sell new tires and offer many other services too.

Favorite day - August 27th. I started the day off teaching ZUMBA (one of my favorite ways to stay a day), went to The Elmwood Arts festival (my first time!), went to Pearl Street for dinner and then went to The Buffalo Place Rocks The Harbor concert series to see Great Big Sea. It was an absolutely gorgeous summer day in Buffalo, got to experience, art, culture, food, and music in one day with one of my favorite people.

Favorite "sight" - Whenever I am going downtown I always end up driving down Court Street towards City Hall. The corner of Court/Pearl (facing City Hall) is just such a gorgeous, gorgeous sight. It makes me smile every time I drive by. It's beautiful during the day, but it's awesome to drive there when it is dark out. I love how City Hall is lit up!!

Favorite "family" activity - I did a lot of fun family stuff this but I think my favorite thing was boarding the Miss Buffalo II with my brothers, their significant others, cousin and boyfriend on July 3rd for a 2 hour sight seeing cruise. It was a warm Buffalo day and we all had a blast. We grabbed Wegmans subs before the tour, had a picnic down by the Harbor then cruised around enjoying all the sights Buffalo has to offer. I'm lucky that the majority of my family still calls Buffalo home and those who don't get home often enough for me to not miss them too much.

Wow! Looking over this list, I really had a blast this year. I've loved branching out and exploring the City Of Buffalo more and I can't wait to re-do this list again in 2012 with a whole new set of memories!

Thanks to all the businesses and people on this list. You truly make Buffalo the best city to live in!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gerard Place in Buffalo

Gerard Place is a 14 unit transitional shelter for homeless single parent families. Many of the parents are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or are in recovery and need a safe place to begin to secure a better future for their families.

Gerard Place opened in November of 2000. Through research they learned that the zip code 14215 (Bailey/Delevan area) was one of the poorest and a change needed to happen. Twelve congregations of the Women Religious in the Diocese of Buffalo created Gerard Place and currently serve on the Board.

The Gerard Place mission is to strengthen the community as it empowers individuals and families toward self-sufficiency by providing housing, supportive services community education and outreach. They live through the teachings of Jesus Christ and are rooted in the principles of compassion, reverence, integrity and collaboration.

When families come to Gerard Place they are placed in a fully furnished two bedroom apartment with security, laundry facilities, community/play area, exercise room and more. In addition to facilities, Gerard Place offers case management services, life skills classes and special events and activities to all the families. They help parents get their GED's and offer job readiness training classes. They help parents with babysitting services and provide numerous activities for the children including arts and crafts and Girl/Boy Scouts. (I can really keep going on all the services they provide...they do phenomenal work for the families they serve!)

Since opening the doors in 2000, Gerard Place has served over 150 families. One recent graduate's story really touched me! Jim and his two children Ava and Brianna graduated from Gerard Place in the Fall of 2011. Prior to Gerard Place, his children were in foster care and Jim was coping with a drug addiction and mental illness that began in his childhood. Without the help of Gerard Place, Jim said he would have never gotten his girls back from foster care. Jim is currently a sophomore in college with an outstanding 3.9 average and studying to be a radiation technician. He has a part-time job and has been clean and sober for over 3 years now. He has moved out of Gerard Place into his own housing and is enjoying raising his two girls.

There are so many other stories, and I wish I could list them all here. Gerard Place truly has helped change the lives of so many families in the WNY area.

In these economic hard times, the need for shelters and support is greater than ever. Director of Services Karen Kasperek said, "It is important for the community to know that there are programs, services and assistance in such an economically challenged time. Gerard Place continues to lend a hand to anyone in need."

When I spoke with Karen I had asked her if there were any items that were needed to help Gerard Place continue to provide such great services, and they are currently in need of many household items; furniture, night stands, crib sheets, vacuums, microwaves, brooms, mops, towels, TV’s, gift cards, household cleaners, household decorations, garbage cans, diapers(any size), school supplies, first aid kits, toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, shower curtains, long window curtains, bar soap, curtain rods, pot & pans, box fans.

If you have the few dollars to spare or are trying to clean up the house and have gently used household items, please consider donating them to Gerard Place.

Gerard Place is located at: 2515 Bailey Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14215. You can reach them by phone at 716-897-9948.

You can find them online at: www.gerardplace.org.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Elam Jewett Cafe

For the past almost 6 years I've worked at St. Mary's School for the Deaf (I'll blog about the School soon). Throughout my years here I've been part of a lot of great events and projects but I have really been impressed with and love the vision of the newest community project; The Elam Jewett Cafe.

The Elam Jewett Café is a not-for-profit organization involving the Episcopal Church of The Good Shepherd and St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. The purpose of the café is to provide valuable work experience to the deaf and disabled individuals in our community. In addition to this vocational opportunity, the Café will serve the Parkside Community and the surrounding areas.

The Cafe is located inside the Church Of The Good Shepherd on the corner of Jewett and Summitt. It is across the street from The Darwin Martin House.

Currently the Cafe is open Mon - Fri from 9:30am - 11:30am (when the school is in session). They are starting small, giving the kids opportunities to learn all about the "cafe" business.

They serve pastries, cakes, cookies and then hot and cold beverages (depending on the season). The pastries are $2.00 and the drinks range from $1.00 - $2.00 as well. They offer comfortable chairs to sit in and a wireless network if you need to get out of the house for a few hours to get some work done.

I realize that most people might not be able to get there right now because they work during those hours but they do have plans of expanding and serving lunch. Ultimately, their goal is to be there to serve the patrons of The Darwin Martin House, since annually they get thousands of visitors and are looking for a spot to grab food before/after their tour. Currently there are really no CLOSE locations to grab food, and The Cafe is situated in the prime location.

The next step for the Cafe is to hire a full time manager. This will allow them to expand their hours and have great insight into taking the next steps with the Cafe.

Check them out on the web: www.elamjewettcafe.org.
(I have posted a lot of pictures of the renovations on the site, so please take a look)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gabriel's Gate on Allen

So there's Duff's and Anchor Bar and everyone makes a big fuss over them, but THEN there is Gabriel's Gate!!! They get my vote for best chicken wings in Buffalo.

Gabriel's Gate is a mostly bar/tavern fare serving burgers, sandwiches, wings, fingers, etc...and they are the perfect spot to go out to dinner before a Sabres/Bandits game, concert downtown, or a fun spot to hit up after work or late at night! The restaurant itself is a pretty decent size with numerous tables both in the front and back of the restaurant. They have a few big screen TVs which make it a fun place to grab some drinks and watch the game.

Gabriel's Gate is located on Allen Street in downtown Buffalo so parking can be tricky, but you can usually find something on one of the side streets. If you are going before a Sabres game, I'd suggest calling the day before and getting a reservation so you aren't waiting.

I've honestly only had a few menu items besides the chicken wings (I've tried the chicken sandwiches, fish fry and steak sandwich), but anyone I've ever gone with has enjoyed their meals as well. The meals are reasonably priced ranging from meals of $8 (burgers, sandwiches) - $16 (entrees). They have happy hour specials week nights and their alcoholic beverages are moderately priced as well.

A single order of BBQ chicken wings are my usual meal of choice (with a side of fries; super healthy too, ha!)

The only downfall is the service; although more recently when I've been there, the service has been much better. They are typically slow and don't check up on you much, but as I said, lately things have seemed to get better there.

They are open at 11:30am everyday of the week and are open late, midnight Sunday - Thursday and 2am on Friday and Saturday. The address is 145 Allen Street and if you are calling up for a reservation the number is (716) 886-0602.

If you are looking for somewhere to take an out of towner for dinner, Gabriel's Gate should be the #1 choice to go, especially if they mention chicken wings! And if you have been living in Buffalo your whole life and haven't tried it out, what are you waiting for? Step outside your normal "night out" places and check out Gabriel's Gate soon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

jojo Bistro & Wine Bar in Williamsville

As part of Restaurant Week in Buffalo in September, my brother's girlfriend Jenny and I went to jojoBistro. Props to Restaurant Week in general - it's typically a three course meal for like $22 bucks, and it's an awesome way to try new places out in Buffalo. The next time it comes around I'll be sure to post about it and give the heads up. If I had the extra cash to spend, I'd go out every night that week (hmmm, maybe I should start saving!)

jojoBistro is located on Sheridan right past the Wegmans. They are right next door to their partner restaurant Black & Blue (I plan on trying that place out soon, so keep an eye out for that blog!)

The decor/design of the restaurant I'd call an upscale modern look (I loved walking in to wine bottles as the door handles - call me a "wine-o" much?) There is a huge wine "cellar" that goes from floor to ceiling with a ladder. The whole theme of the restaurant is based around wine with wine labels, bottles, corks, etc...all over. It is really cozy and comfortable and the wait staff were great. It looks small from the outside, but there are a decent number of tables inside. It still does have an intimiate feel making it a perfect place for date night.

The menu has pizzas, (which are delicious and HUGE - we tried a spicy chicken one, and honestly it wasn't that spicy at all for spicy food lovers!) salads, fancier dishes like duck, red fish and short ribs, and classic chicken and burger dishes. While the menu item I had that evening (a butternut squash ravioli) is not part of the regular menu, it was delicious and very filling. The desserts didn't disappoint either. Overall, the meal was fun, the presentation was modern and clean and I will be making another stop back with the boyfriend or friends.

As for price, the pizzas are $12 (but they are a very good size), and the other entree dishes range from $12 (burger) to $23 (salmon). In my opinion it is worth it.

They have an extensive wine list and the bar area is stocked with various liquors. It is a perfect spot to stop after work for happy hour. Their appetizer list is great and would be a fun way to enjoy a few drinks with friends.

Next time you are looking for a fun night out, or if you love wine, check out jojo Bistro & Wine Bar!

(Jenny and me in the restaurant and outside)

For more reviews on jojo Bistro, check out:

Jojo Bistro & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon